312. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 5 May 1798

312. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, 5 May 1798 ⁠* 

May 5. 98 Bristol.

My dear Wynn

I came here yesterday to superintend the sending of my books, [1]  for in consequence of my mothers ill-health we have removed there. You will receive Bedfords copy & one for Richards. [2]  I have also sent the large paper poems. [3]  I have a fine copy of the Letters [4]  destined for my Uncle which as it is unbound I will exchange with you – but it is in London packed up. – It is scarcely possible to exceed the books I now send in print & paper.

You have seen my brother in the gazette I suppose mentioned honourably – & in the wounded list. [5]  his wounds are slight but his escape has been wonderful. the Boatswain came to know if they should board the enemy forwards & was told by all means. Tom took a pike & ran forwards – he found them in great confusion & as he thought only wanting a leader. he asked if they would follow him, & one poor fellow answered – Aye by God Sir – to Hell! – on this Tom got into the French ship followed as he thought by the rest – but in fact only by this man. just as he had made good his footing, he received two thrusts with a pike in his right thigh & fell. they made a third thrust as he fell, which glanced from his shoulder blade & took a small piece of flesh out of his back. he fell between the two ships & this saved his life, for he caught a rope – & regained the deck of the Mars.

We expect him home daily. he attended the funeral of poor Captain Hood, a man who was uncommonly kind to him, & whom he respected & regrets.

Edith is better one day & worse the next – in that languid & declining way – that fluctuating state that seems only to raise hopes to destroy them. Of my Mother I have hopes it is anxiety that has been the primary source of her illness – but I now hope that the causes will soon be removed, & am willing to believe that the effect will cease also. Our prospects would be brighter than they ever yet have been – were it not for these clouds. I do not love to dwell upon this subject – let what will come I am prepared – & knowing this it is better as far as possible to immerse myself like a school boy in the present.

Why have you been so silent? do not hint at any of this when you write – I shall see you in a fortnight & will then tell you what alteration that time has made. it will not be much – I fear me there is a slow wasting away. I am very well myself; but far less capable of bearing fatigue than I have been. the machine was not made to last long – but it will last as long as I shall wish it.

I am sorry the copy of my Letters [6]  is not here that I might send it. – have you read the play of Benyowsky? [7]  indeed it is a very fine one. I prefer it to any of Schillers. [8] 

I do not know now whether it would be prudent in Tom to accompany Ld Proby to Lisbon. as Ld Bridport has sent word to him that he would not forget him when he had served his time, & offered him a birth on board his own ship. he will use his own judgement – & probably I think follow the fortune of Butterfield the 1st Lieutenant. [9]  When I saw him so noticed by Butterfield I felt as he says of himself during the engagement ‘something that I never felt before.” I felt more proud of my brother when he received ten pounds prize money & sent his mother half – & yet it gave me something like exultation to know that he would now be respected by his acquaintance – tho not for his best virtues. he is an excellent young man – & moreover a good seaman – God bless him – & you also.

yrs affectionately

R Southey.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ 5. Stone Buildings/ Lincolns Inn / London
Endorsement: May 5/ 1798
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Charles Cuthbert Southey (ed.), Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey, 6 vols (London, 1849–1850), I, pp. 331–332 [in part]. BACK

[1] Presentation copies of Joan of Arc (1798). BACK

[2] Probably Sir Richard Richards (1752–1823; DNB), an eminent lawyer in Chancery. BACK

[3] Southey’s Poems (1797). BACK

[4] Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[5] Details of the fight between the Mars and L’Hercule on 21 April 1798 had been published, along with a list of the killed and wounded, in the London Gazette on 1 May 1798. BACK

[6] Letters Written During a Short Residence in Spain and Portugal (1797). BACK

[7] August Friedrich Ferdinand von Kotzebue (1761–1819), Count Benyowsky; or The Conspiracy of Kamtschatka: A Tragi-Comedy, in Five Acts, Translated from the German, By the Rev. W. Render (1798). BACK

[8] Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805), German playwright and poet. BACK

[9] Lieutenant William Butterfield (1766–1842) had taken charge of the Mars after its Captain had been killed. He was credited with capturing the French ship L’Hercule and on his return to Britain was promoted to Master and Commander; see the London Chronicle, April 26, 1798. He eventually gained the rank of Rear-Admiral of the Red. BACK